Speaker Madigan: ‘I take responsibility’ for not doing enough on sexual harassment issue

Amid rising frustration within his party, Speaker Michael Madigan on Friday said he shoulders “responsibility” for failing to do more to ensure equality in the Statehouse and on the campaign trail.

The letter sent to lawmakers late Friday afternoon marked a reversal from just a few days ago, when Madigan allowed his campaign attorney to do most of the talking about the speaker’s handling of a sexual harassment complaint against one of his top political aides.

“I would never condone, sweep under the rug or refuse to take any step to ensure we did not eradicate any behavior of this kind. I understand the ‘knock it off’ mentality is not enough, and we must, and will, do better moving forward,” said Madigan, a reference to a phrase he used last fall when the issue of sexual harassment surfaced at the Capitol. “We must do better. We will do better.”

Madigan, who doubles as chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, also revealed that he has retained an attorney to receive and investigate harassment allegations on his political staff as well as “provide independent review of allegations, conduct investigations, and provide recommendations for updating policies and procedures, including clear rules for conduct and penalties for violations.”

On Monday, Madigan announced longtime 13th Ward political operative Kevin Quinn was cut loose. The announcement came hours after the Chicago Tribune interviewed campaign worker Alaina Hampton, who shared text messages that detail a relentless series of entreaties from Quinn, her supervisor. Quinn also commented on her appearance, calling her “smoking hot.”

Hampton filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Chicago. She said she believes her situation was the subject of a cover-up, and questioned if Madigan would have acted if she were not about to go public with her allegations.

Madigan denied that during a Tuesday press conference in which his attorney, Heather Wier Vaught, fielded most of the questions. Madigan’s most robust comments came when responding to Rep. Scott Drury, a Democratic candidate for attorney general and critic of Madigan who called on him to resign.

Madigan said he would not step down, and dismissed Drury as following in Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s footsteps.

Since then, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have raised questions about Madigan’s response to the allegations against Quinn and called for changes to protect those who come forward with complaints.

On Friday, Madigan said in the letter that it was clear from “the number and nature of the conversations taking place” that “we haven’t done enough.”

“I take responsibility for that,” Madigan said.

The letter went out shortly before NBC Ch. 5 reported that Quinn’s estranged wife, Sarah McKay, faxed a letter in August to Madigan chief of staff Tim Mapes alleging mistreatment by Quinn.

“It was verbal abuse, and then it became physical,” McKay told NBC. ” … I reached out, pleading for help, and they ignored me, and I have two children.”

Quinn pleaded guilty last month to disorderly conduct, a case arising from what Madigan aides have said was the couple’s divorce proceedings. Quinn was arrested Thursday at his Southwest Side home for allegedly violating an order of protection over texts and calls, police said.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the speaker did not receive the letter. Attempts to reach Quinn’s lawyer were unsuccessful.

Also Friday, Democratic state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz of Chicago introduced legislation that would extend the time limit employees have to file sexual harassment lawsuits from 180 to 300 days. Among Hampton’s allegations was that Madigan’s attorney slow-walked an investigation into her complaints, which prevented her from filing a suit.

Feigenholtz, who serves as part of Madigan’s leadership team, said the change is needed to “bend the arc of justice” toward victims.

The veteran lawmaker also proposed a measure to provide state workers with legal assistance to help them pursue ethics complaints, including allegations of sexual harassment. Under that legislation, several offices would be created to provide information, legal representation and support for workers, including a hotline to report misconduct.

Such changes would ensure employees have “a true and independent person to turn to,” Feigenholtz said.

The North Side legislator said the goal was to go beyond changes lawmakers pushed through late last year in the wake of sexual harassment accusations made against state Sen. Ira Silverstein of Chicago. While Silverstein eventually was cleared — he instead was found to have behaved in a manner unbecoming of a legislator — the case illuminated problems with the way the ethics complaints made against lawmakers and staff are handled.

Chief among those issues was a years-long vacancy in the Illinois Legislative Inspector General’s office, which meant complaints sat on a shelf without being investigated. Madigan and other legislative leaders scrambled to fill the position following the Silverstein allegations, and lawmakers passed a series of bills to address failings in state ethics laws.

Before lawmakers acted, the rules did not include an explicit prohibition against sexual harassment. Now sexual harassment is expressly forbidden, and violations come with a $5,000 fine. Lawmakers and lobbyists also must take yearly sexual harassment training and risk having their names publicized if they fail to do so.

Another measure created a sexual harassment task force for each chamber, and the groups continue to meet to come up with additional legislation.

While Madigan has vowed to do more, his handling of the Quinn accusations was defended earlier Friday by House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, who has long been among Madigan’s most trusted deputies.

“My sense, given what I know about the case, is that the speaker responded appropriately and in a timely manner,” Currie said during a panel discussion about sexual harassment in Chicago hosted by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

Currie isn’t running for re-election this year, putting her among a group of powerful women in Illinois politics who are stepping aside or already have, including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and former Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno.

Republican state Rep. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez of Leland Grove raised questions about further state reviews, given that Quinn spent time working on Madigan’s House Democratic staff.

“I think there are still some questions that can be asked around this case, and I think that we should,” she said.

Chicago Tribune’s Ray Long contributed from Chicago.

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